01/03/2005 - 21:00

Simple message wins the day for Gallop

01/03/2005 - 21:00

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There are two things I think we can be sure of from this election campaign – we won’t be getting a canal and we won’t see any significant deregulation of shopping hours for the next decade.

There are two things I think we can be sure of from this election campaign – we won’t be getting a canal and we won’t see any significant deregulation of shopping hours for the next decade.

I could probably add a third … we won’t be getting any serious tax cuts.

Those appear to me to be outcomes from one of the most interesting election campaigns I can recall.

The first two are very much the result of the people voting. By giving the thumbs down to Liberal leader Colin Barnett they were effectively voting on the canal because he had, perhaps wrongly in hindsight, staked his election chances to it.

As for shopping hours, there is very little that speaks as loudly as a strong majority in a referendum. Woe betide any politician who thinks they can raise this again.

Then there is the tax cuts.

Two months ago the Gallop Government was on the nose over its unnecessary and damaging increases in taxes. There was a smell of defeat in the air as the State Government realised it had taken too much from the people and a belated return was not really being appreciated by those who already felt ripped off.

Dr Gallop did a mea culpa on this, but that should not have been the end of it.

All the hype surrounding the canal vision made that issue the focus of the election campaign, rather than taxes.

So the defeat of Mr Barnett effectively signals de facto approval of the Labor Government’s taxing strategy. If I were Dr Gallop I would feel under no pressure to wind back taxes any further. That is a shame and a loss for Western Australia because we are less competitive as a state than we were four years ago.

If there is a lesson in all this it is that oppositions need to know when they have a government on the ropes and when they need the rabbit-out-of-the-hat policy to capture the campaign attention.

All the retrospective analysis will centre on Mr Barnett’s decision to surprise the electorate with his canal proposal during the televised debate with Dr Gallop.

It was a bold move but, as the new centre of attention, he appeared unprepared to back up his vision with facts that would win over a cautious electorate up to its gills in mortgage payments and increasingly self-employed.

He might have been better to keep the attack on taxes and the poor record of the Government in getting things done.

An interesting fact in all this is that Mr Barnett appears to have ignored that key ground we have discussed on these pages recently, the small business vote. Certainly, he lost one campaigning issue when the trading hours issue was put to a referendum, but small business is not just shop keepers.

It also includes numerous other small manufacturers (in the traditional mould of small business) plus a new breed of consultants, home business operators and pseudo-employed contractors – people who the State Government had put pressure on through its taxes and industrial relations policies.

While a canal may have delivered another boom in development for the state, this message was not sold to this key new electorate. These people listened to Dr Gallop’s financial responsibility message, just as they had agreed with John Howard’s at last year’s federal poll.

A future opposition leader would be well served to remember that.

Barnett short when pressed on numbers

AMID the fall-out from the Opposition’s failure at the WA poll and Colin Barnett’s decision to step down as leader, a lot of emphasis has been placed on that fateful press conference of Thursday February 24 when a small accounting error left the aspiring premier with egg on his face.

While I don’t believe that particular press conference was make or break for Mr Barnett there are many who do, and therefore we have seen quite a bit of analysis on how it unfolded.

That includes particular media players taking credit for recognising the error. With all that in mind I have to lightly chastise The Australian newspaper’s roving political correspondent (or is that satirist) Matt Price for failing to acknowledge WA Business News journalist Mark Beyer in this exchange, which Price reported on the front page of his newspaper last Friday.

Journalist: “Under the figures, you’ll be in deficit in 2006-2007.”

Barnett: “No, I’m sorry, we won’t we’ll be in surplus.”

Journalist: “That’s what your numbers show.”

Barnett: “No, we’ll be in surplus, I assure you.”

Journalist: “Your number is wrong then.”

While this was not the first question to Mr Barnett on the numbers that day – and Beyer tells me the miscalculation was obvious to everyone in the room once they started to digest the figures – I thought it was worth mentioning, given even The Australian thought the exchange merited front-page treatment.

As for the whole event, it shows what an advantage a government with a treasury has over an opposition when it comes to releasing costings.

Mr Barnett shot himself in the foot releasing such errant numbers so close to the election date. He no doubt left it so late to stop the Government using its massive public service resources to find costings holes, as it had sought to do with regard to the Liberals’ canal proposal.

In my view this is not the way the public service should be used and leaves it in a very compromised position at the time of an election.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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